April 23, 2014

Beware: Merapi. Java.

Back in Yogyakarta there was one volcano I had not visited yet, Mt Merapi, or Fire Mountain in Javanese, the most active volcano in Indonesia. Merapi just keeps on erupting. On my third night in Yogyakarta I was thrown around in my bed at 3 AM as an earthquake caused by the volcano shook the city. Ash and pumice was thrown from the cone at the same time.

I had planned to climb Merapi, but at this time it was considered too dangerous.  Climbers were only allowed two thirds of the way up up due to the risk of being killed by erupting material, so I headed for the remains of Kaliadem, on the slopes of the volcano.

Merapi is that most dangerous of volcanoes, it erupts regularly, and creates pyroclastic flows. These clouds of rocks and gas, at temperatures above 1000 Celsius, and traveling at speeds of up to 500 km/h are responsible for the destruction and death of anything that is before them. If a human is caught in one, the heat causes the brain to explode. Pyrcolastic flows were responsible for most of the deaths in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and in 2010 here, on the slopes of Merapi.

Despite warnings, many had refused to leave the village of Kaliadem in October 2010, on the lower slope of Merapi. The villagers were used to regular alerts and seeing Merapi blow off clouds of ash and rocks. This time was different, and a pyroclastic flow hit the village. Humans, livestock, houses and vehicles were consumed by the cloud. Over 350 people died. Those who had left soon returned, the ground is so fertile that they were drawn back to their farms.

Walking around the base of Merapi the destruction is still very clear despite the regrowth of vegetation. Only the foundations of many houses remain amidst the mud and pumice. A small museum has been built in one of the ruined houses in the mainly rebuilt village, showing off the results of the eruption. Burnt vehicles, animal skeletons, and household objects are displayed  This may be great for disaster tourists but it would be hard to live and work next to such a graphic reminder of Merapi's destruction.

Far Flung Travel Tips

* It is about 90 minutes from the centre of Yogyakarta to the slopes of Mt Merapi. A car and driver can be hired for approx 450,000 Rupiah, or an alternative option would be to go with an English speaking Ojek (motorbike with rider). Agus is a safe rider, and has a wealth of information about the volcano and Yogyakarta. Contact Agus  on 081 904093560 or via email agus_karto@yahoo.com for an entertaining tour.

* It costs 10,000 Rupiah to enter the National Park surrounding Merapi. You can pay a further 200,000 Rupiah to join a jeep tour of the slopes of Merapi, including Kaliadem, but the site is easily walkable from the car park.

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